Automating Your Productized Services (Part 2)
While productization often relies on technology and processes, it doesn't mean you'll be able to create fully automated services that require no attention on your part.
Much of your products' value will still come from the high-level skill you and your team bring to each project. That means your employees probably aren't about to lose their jobs to robots anytime soon.
In fact, your people will likely end up with more meaningful work because they can focus on the really important stuff.
Software and processes can help you scale up exponentially by serving more customers with a smaller team.
If you’ve read Part 1 in our three-part series on productization, you’ll already have a fairly clear idea of a specific service or two that you want to productize.
Now we'll walk you through the next phase of the implementation process: leveraging technology to turn your service into an easily replicable product.
How Companies Are Automating Their Processes
Using technologies to organize, market, and manage your processes is a core part of productized services. The following are just a few examples of how companies are using technologies to automate:
Web Canopy Studio provides comprehensive inbound marketing, and relies on automation for many components of its products, which include SEO, social media publishing, lead generation, and more. For example, the platform helps them determine if the content they’ve produced targets the right audience and is web-ready, which automates the review process.
Content Pros employs a user-friendly interface in which clients, managers, writers, and editors can all interact. The platform, which we created, streamlines the production process from idea generation to client review. Intake and keeping track of client information, needs, and preferences is automated at their end. Our system also eliminates the confusion of email threads and makes it clear which team member is up to bat.
DesignPac offers graphic design as a service by automating elements of the process such as intake. However, it emphasizes that customers have a one-on-one relationship with their designer.
In short, technology doesn’t replace real relationships with customers following company Productization. It enhances them.
Steps to Leveraging Technologies
If you're going to be implementing software to automate your productized services, you should already have a clear idea of all the steps involved from start to finish...
List all key tasks
Make a list of all the activities you perform during each of the three phases of the product cycle. Then break each activity down into smaller tasks.
The offer phase: This phase extends from getting the client set up in the system to sending your first invoice. Tasks might include collecting the client’s payment information, ascertaining their unique needs, and requesting payment.
The delivery phase: This includes all of the work you do for the client. Activities might include holding meetings with the client, producing the product, and reviewing the product internally before delivering it to the client. Again, break each activity down into smaller tasks.
The follow-up phase: This involves checking in with the client after payment for the product to find out what else they might need. Tasks might include making a call, sending an email to the client and following up with product suggestions.
This list serves as your blueprint for reproducing the product. By putting even the smallest tasks on paper you get a birds eye perspective on what needs to be done and how those tasks can be restructured.
For example, you might have had one person handle a particular step in product delivery, but after breaking it into smaller actions, you find that some of them are great candidates for automation.
Group tasks by level of sophistication
Put all tasks into one of two categories, based on their level of complexity.
High-complexity tasks: These require creativity and insight. For example, the design of a book cover or the editing of a manuscript. They’re the areas where you don’t want to smother creativity by making everything routine.
Low-complexity tasks: These are repeated for different clients with little variation. Things like data entry, invoicing, or reporting.
With SPP, for example, your website could automatically send customers an intake form not only to collect their payment information but also to assess their needs. This can cut your consultation time to a fraction of its current length. Customers can also be automatically prompted to pay upon purchasing the product rather than receiving an invoice after the work is completed.
Grow your industry knowledge
Designing or choosing the right system
Great work! You’ve determined which elements of your product cycle you’ll need to automate.
Now you’re ready to either find existing systems that can carry out those processes, or to work with a software developer to create brand new ones. You may want to use different platforms or apps to handle different components of your product cycle and connect them together through custom APIs or tools like Zapier.
Determine if existing software can work for you
Here are just a few examples of what’s already out there:
Service Provider Pro creates dashboards that streamline the workflow process and communication between customers and the team. That means you don’t need to pay a developer to design one from scratch and you can get started today.
Asana is a project management software program that helps you easily manage a team throughout the product life cycle. It helps a project manager organize the workflow process and then allows the whole team to visualize what stage you’re in at a glance. Features include a shared calendar and the ability to create templates based on processes used for past projects.
Moz Pro, an SEO management tool, handles a broad range of SEO functions. For example, the “crawling” feature automatically checks for problems on the customer’s website on a regular basis.
HubSpot provides marketing automation software with an intuitive user interface. The suite of tools for managing the sales, marketing, and customer management processes includes a free customer relationship management (CRM) program. The CRM tool automatically generates insights about new leads that help sales personnel decide how to approach them, allows users to create and schedule emails using a template, and instantly logs sales and shares them with the team via the platform.
Datapine offers reporting software that helps companies gather and make sense of their data. Reports cover a broad range of areas, from human resources to market research.
Don’t assume the right platform isn’t out there already just because of your complex needs. For example, many analytical platforms on the market can be customized enough to meet most companies’ requirements.
And remember, you can use different platforms or apps to handle different components of your product cycle.
Consider a customized solution
Perhaps you’ve decided to implement a system that helps carry out the bulk of your work, and none of the existing options fit the bill.
If so, you may need to work with a software developer to create it, or to adapt an existing open source solution to your needs (such as building a custom plugin for WordPress).
At the end of the day, for most businesses it's better to have a solution that handles a few important tasks well, as opposed to something that's supposed to do it all but falls short on delivering the core features.
Stay tuned for the final article in this series. In Part 3, we’ll discuss how to prepare for your product launch: pricing your services, creating your marketing strategy, and introducing your productized services to existing clients.